EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - For the Giants, it was the agony of victory.
The Giants took care of their own business and never trailed in a 17-14 victory over the Washington Redskins in FedEx Field. But the Green Bay Packers came from behind to defeat the Chicago Bears, 10-3, to secure the sixth and final NFC playoff berth the Giants had coveted. So despite a 10-6 record, the Giants have finished out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the first time that's happened since 2003-04.
A strange dynamic permeated the Giants' locker room. They won a game they very much wanted to win, but couldn't celebrate because the euphoria of earning their 10th victory quickly gave way to the frustration of having the season end so abruptly.
"I would say this is the most somber winning locker room you'll ever see and that's because we fell short of our goals," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "Knowing that we won but we didn't fulfill our own destiny and we came up losers on the day, it's definitely weird. We had opportunities and we blew it (late-season losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay), so we had no one to blame but ourselves."
"It's bittersweet – more bitter than sweet, though," tight end Kevin Boss said. "We're just disappointed that we didn't get in. I'm proud of our effort today and getting an NFC East win on the road is always hard to do. But ultimately, I'm disappointed and discouraged that we didn't make the playoffs."
Eli Manning threw a 92-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs scored on a two-yard run and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 20-yard field goal for the Giants. Tynes also missed a 39-yard attempt wide right in the third quarter.
"I think what you try to do is to make the best of the situations that you're in and our situation tonight was that all we could worry about was going out here and trying to win this game," Manning said. "We knew we needed some help from Chicago and that didn't happen, so I'm pleased with the win and doing what we could. I guess it's a little late and we had better opportunities earlier in the season – the last two weeks prior to this. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities then, but we came out, we played until the very end and got a win tonight, but overall in the season, disappointed. We felt we were a playoff caliber team and you can always look back and see some key games that we didn't win that affected us not making the playoffs."
In the fourth quarter, the Giants twice stopped Washington on fourth down and Osi Umenyiora and Kenny Phillips recovered fourth-quarter Washington fumbles to help preserve the victory. But they could do nothing to push the Giants into the playoffs, despite the impressive record.
"To win the 10 games was nice," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "But we all wanted to win the 10 games so we could get a chance to play next week as well."
"It was all self-inflicted," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "We were in the driver's seat. And then we were in the passenger seat. And now we're in the back seat."
Washington scored on Rex Grossman's touchdown passes of one yard to tight end Fred Davis and 64 yards to Anthony Armstrong.
Armstrong's touchdown – his second against the Giants this season – lifted Washington to within 17-14 with 5:52 to play. On the first play following a Giants punt, Armstrong got behind safety Antrel Rolle, caught Grossman's pass and won a footrace to end zone.
The Giants then held the ball for almost four minutes before punting. Washington then moved to the Giants' 36-yard line where, on fourth-and-four, Grossman's pass fell incomplete with 1:03 remaining, effectively ending the game.
Manningham's long touchdown reception increased the Giants' lead to 17-7 with 12:19 remaining in the third quarter. The receiver got behind Pro Bowl cornerback D'Angelo Hall, caught Manning's pass at the Giants' 35-yard line and sprinted to the end zone.
"They had man-to-man and pressed on Mario," Manning said. "He got an inside release and it really wasn't the route, he just put his hands up and said I beat him bad off the line, I'm going to run a go route and I was able to put it up and he made a good catch and showed his speed and he got to the end zone."
It was the second week in a row Manning threw the longest touchdown pass of his career. Last week in Green Bay, Manning and Manningham teamed up on an 85-yard score. The 92-yard pass was the third-longest in Giants history. It is exceeded in length only by Earl Morrall's 98-yard throw to Homer Jones at Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, 1966 and Norm Snead's 94-yarder to Rich Houston vs. Dallas on Sept. 24, 1972.
The two-play, 95-yard drive was the Giants' longest since a 97-yard march at St. Louis on Sept. 14, 2008.
Davis' touchdown reception with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter pulled the Redskins to within 10-7 at halftime. On second-and-goal, Davis lined up on the left side of the line, cut across the end zone and was all alone on the right side when he caught Grossman's pass.
Washington drove 80 yards in seven plays following a Giants touchdown. After throwing an incompletion to open the series, Grossman threw passes of 16 yards to Chris Cooley, 19 yards to Davis and, after the two-minute warning, 18 yards to Santana Moss and 23 yards to Keiland Williams.
The last of those passes gave the Redskins a first-and-goal at the four. Ryan Torain ran for three yards immediately prior to the touchdown.
Jacobs' touchdown gave the Giants a 10-0 lead with 3:06 remaining in the second quarter. The score was set up by Boss' terrific one-handed catch of Manning's 24-yard pass on the previous play, which was the longest gain on the Giants' nine-play, 69-yard drive.
The series also included Manning passes of 16 yards to D.J. Ware and 12 and 15 yarders to Derek Hagan, the latter moments before the quarterback's strike to Boss.
The Giants scored the only points of the first quarter on Tynes' 20-yard field goal. The scored capped a 10-play, 78-yard drive highlighted by Jacobs' 27-yard run up the right sideline. The Giants picked up 15 more yards on the next play on Manning's pass to Hagan. But they also suffered a big loss on the play when Rich Seubert – playing center for the injured Shaun O'Hara - suffered a dislocated right kneecap. Seubert had to be carted off the field.
Manning's 14-yard scramble up the middle gave the Giants a first-and-goal at the Washington six-yard line. Ahmad Bradshaw was stopped for no gain on first down. Hagan then failed to hold onto what would have been a touchdown pass from Manning. Bradshaw gained four yards before Tynes came on to kick the field goal.
In the end, the Giants won the battle but lost the postseason berth.
"I still want to play," offensive lineman David Diehl said. "How often do you win 10 games, given how difficult it is to win 10 games in the NFL, and not make the playoffs? It's unfortunate that we had opportunities and we came up short. But you can walk away saying we sold out, we did everything we could this last week and it's unfortunate that we didn't make it, but to win 10 games in the NFL season, it's not easy."
Neither is sitting home for the playoffs.